SpaceX ignored last-minute warnings from the FAA before December Starship launch

Elon Musk’s company was told SN8’s launch would violate its FAA license, but SpaceX launched anyway

Minutes before liftoff, Elon Musk’s SpaceX ignored at least two warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration that launching its first high-altitude Starship prototype last December would violate the company’s launch license, confidential documents and letters obtained by The Verge show. And while SpaceX was under investigation, it told the FAA that the agency’s software was a “source of frustration” that has been “shown to be inaccurate at times or overly conservative,” according to the documents.

SpaceX’s violation of its launch license was “inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” the FAA’s space division chief Wayne Monteith said in a letter to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. “Although the report states that all SpaceX parties believed that such risk was sufficiently low to comply with regulatory criteria, SpaceX used analytical methods that appeared to be hastily developed to meet a launch window,” Monteith went on.

Launch violations are rare in the industry, even as private contractors have taken over work that once was the US government’s alone. SpaceX occupies a particularly dominant position, as it is now NASA’s only ride to the International Space Station and the Moon. The documents exclusively obtained by The Verge show how SpaceX prioritized speed over safety when launching on its own private rocket playground. Ultimately, the FAA didn’t sanction SpaceX, and less than two months later, SpaceX resumed flights in Boca Chica, Texas.

For Musk, SpaceX’s CEO who was on site for SN8’s launch day, the violation is one of the latest tussles with regulators overseeing his companies. After settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018 over an attempt to take Tesla private, Musk was told his tweets about the company needed a lawyer’s sign-off. Shortly after, he went on 60 Minutes to say no one was approving his tweets; the SEC brought him back to court, though Musk’s tweets have continued to raise eyebrows with no apparent consequences. In 2020, Musk’s Fremont Tesla factory violated local safety orders, defying the local government’s stay-at-home order to work through the pandemic. Musk taunted local officials, inviting them to come arrest him.

SpaceX emerged from the December launch violation relatively unscathed. The company has since won a $2.9 billion contract to put NASA astronauts on a Starship flight to the Moon in 2024 — the first and only such contract in a half-century.

Neither SpaceX nor Musk has publicly commented on the SN8 violation. SpaceX didn’t respond to a request for comment. The FAA confirmed the violation after a report by The Verge in January. But a confidential five-page report by SpaceX and letters between Shotwell and Monteith reveal what SpaceX employees knew before liftoff and detail how the company responded to its violation in the aftermath.

SpaceX first attempted to launch SN8 at SpaceX’s South Texas Starship campus on December 8th with FAA approval, but it scrubbed due to an engine issue. Launch day on December 9th, when weather conditions changed, was full of ad hoc meetings between company employees and FAA officials, who repeatedly rejected SpaceX’s weather and launch modeling data that purported to show SN8 was safe to fly, according to a five-page SpaceX report. It was unclear what role, if any, Musk himself played in the decision to launch SN8.

SpaceX’s SN8 Starship prototype successfully lifts off in violation of its launch license.
GIF: SpaceX

The FAA’s models showed that if the rocket exploded, its shockwave could be strengthened by various weather conditions like wind speed and endanger nearby homes. As a new launch countdown clock was ticking, SpaceX asked the FAA to waive this safety threshold at 1:42PM, but the FAA rejected the request an hour later. SpaceX paused the countdown clock.

SpaceX’s director of launch operations, whose name wasn’t provided in the report, restarted the launch countdown clock shortly after. The report said the director had “the impression that” SpaceX’s data was sufficient. But that wasn’t the case. As the launch clock was counting down, SpaceX staff in the meeting made little progress — 15 minutes before liftoff, “the FAA informed SpaceX that the weather data provided was not sufficient.” The same safety risk remained, and SN8 wasn’t cleared for launch.

SpaceX employees left the FAA meeting for the company’s launch control room ahead of SN8’s launch. Minutes before liftoff, an FAA safety inspector speaking on an open phone line warned SpaceX’s staff in the launch control room that a launch would violate the company’s launch license. SpaceX staff ignored the warning because they “assumed that the inspector did not have the latest information,” the SpaceX report said.

SpaceX launched the rocket anyway. The steel-clad SN8 prototype flew more than six miles over the company’s private rocket facilities on the coast of Boca Chica, Texas, and blew to smithereens upon landing. No injuries or damage to any homes were reported.

SN8 perishes in an explosive “hard landing”

In one letter to Shotwell, Monteith cited SpaceX’s report and slammed the company for proceeding with the launch “based on ‘impressions’ and ‘assumptions,’ rather than procedural checks and positive affirmations.”

“These actions show a concerning lack of operational control and process discipline that is inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” he said.

SpaceX agreed to take over a dozen corrective measures but defended its own data and decision-making. The company criticized the FAA’s launch-weather modeling software. The software’s results, SpaceX said, can be intentionally interfered with to provide “better or worse results for an identical scenario.”

SpaceX has complained to the FAA in the past about the software, but “this feedback has not driven any action, contributing to the situation described above,” the report said. A “closer and more direct dialogue” with FAA officials would’ve smoothed the FAA discussions before SN8’s launch, SpaceX added.

SpaceX also proposed corrective measures: pausing the launch countdown clocks if an FAA inspector says there’s a violation and lowering the threshold for manually detonating an errant rocket midflight, before a more dangerous explosion occurs. The company also proposed to build at least four new launch and weather modeling tools with the FAA.

Monteith wasn’t happy with SpaceX’s response. He ordered SpaceX to reevaluate its safety procedures and launch day chain of command, and he urged it to go back and review the launch control room phone lines to spot any times SpaceX strayed from the license’s communication plan. He also required an FAA inspector to be physically present in Texas for every Starship prototype launch in the future. Flying inspectors from offices in Florida to rural Texas for each launch isn’t easy, so the FAA might base one in Houston for a shorter trip.

FAA investigators couldn’t determine whether the SN8 license violation was intentional, according to people involved in and briefed on the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity. That’s partially why the FAA review of the violation wasn’t a more in-depth investigation that could have resulted in fines or stronger consequences. FAA officials also believed grounding Starship and foisting a two-month investigation on a multibillion-dollar company focused heavily on speedy timelines would be a more effective penalty than imposing relatively trivial fines, the people said.

SN8 marked SpaceX’s first high-altitude launch outside of its other launch sites in Florida and California, where Air Force officials who monitor local weather conditions tell the company whether it’s safe to launch. Those government officials, formally called Range safety officials, don’t exist at SpaceX’s private rocket facilities in south Texas. SpaceX was primarily responsible for its own range safety during SN8’s launch, a responsibility in which it had very little experience. The company acknowledged in its report that the Starship site “was not mature enough” to function as a range.

SpaceX is moving ahead anyway. Since the launch violation, it’s launched four more rockets at the Starship site and even landed one successfully — all with FAA approval and a few changes to its operations. Unlike SN8, which launched on an automatic timer, other Starship launches now require a final “go” command from a human operator, Shotwell said in a letter to Monteith. And it is taking a stab at maturity, at least with its range safety tech.

At least one of the new launch-weather models SpaceX proposed, designed to bolster its range capabilities, has already taken shape. The company is building a database of wind patterns over Boca Chica to help inform its launch day weather modeling, using an experimental tool to gather wind speed data, according to a document the company filed with the Federal Communications Commission in April.

But new weather tools won’t change Musk’s Twitter presence, a concern for agency officials and lawmakers who worry the CEO’s candid tweets influence SpaceX employees and put unfair pressure on launch safety processes.

As the FAA’s review of SpaceX’s safety culture investigation was nearing completion in late January, holding up the company’s SN9 launch for a few days, Musk tweeted that the FAA’s “space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that, under its rules, “humanity will never get to Mars.” An FAA spokesman replied, saying the agency “will not compromise its responsibility to protect public safety.”

The House transportation committee that oversees the FAA opened its own probe into SpaceX’s SN8 violation in February as well as “the FAA’s subsequent response, and the pressure exerted on the FAA during high profile launches,” chairs of the committee and its aviation subcommittee wrote to the agency’s administrator Steve Dickson. SpaceX’s recent launch activities raise serious questions about whether the FAA is under “potential undue influence” in making safety decisions, the letter said.

In March, after an onsite FAA inspector left town for the weekend following a week of anticipation for the company’s SN11 prototype launch, SpaceX emailed the inspector on Sunday to return for a Monday liftoff, according to a person familiar with the exchange. The inspector, taking the weekend off, missed the email at first but hopped on an early Monday morning flight back to Texas.

“FAA inspector unable to reach Starbase in time for launch today,” Musk wrote on Twitter, stirring up vitriol against the FAA in SpaceX’s fan base bubbles on Twitter and Reddit. The inspector landed in Texas, and SN11 launched the next day.


Blue Origin auctions New Shepard ride with Jeff Bezos for $28 million

Blue Origin’s month-long auction for a trip to the edge of space with its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos ended on Saturday with a closing price of $28 million. The flight aboard New Shepard, slated for July 20th, will mark the company’s first mission flying humans, in which the winning bidder will bask in a few minutes of microgravity with Bezos, his brother Mark, and one other passenger before returning back to land.

The identity of the winner will be kept secret for a few weeks — “we need to complete some final paperwork with them,” says Blue Origin’s astronaut sales director Ariane Cornell during the live broadcast. The auction took place in a Boston, Massachusetts facility owned by RR Auction, the hosting company. Dozens of telephone operators were gathered in a room representing 20 bidders, who brought the starting price of $4.8 million to $28 million in under 10 minutes. The proceeds will go to Blue Origin’s nonprofit charity Club For The Future.

“The more you pay for it the more you enjoy it,” the auctioneer said at one point.

New Shepard is a 60-foot-tall reusable rocket designed to shoot a gumdrop-shaped capsule with seats for six roughly 62 miles above ground to the edge of space, a roughly 10-minute mission that gives passengers a sight-seeing experience in microgravity for about three minutes. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon who will step down as its CEO next month, announced last Monday he’ll be riding the same mission with his brother Mark to fulfill his lifelong dream.

The $28 million price tag for the suborbital trip is roughly half the price for a seat on an orbital mission. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has only flown government astronauts to the International Space Station, will launch its first private astronaut mission to orbit later this year, with four passengers spending roughly three days in orbit.

Blue Origin, which has test-flown the fully reusable New Shepard rocket 15 times since 2015, hasn’t set a price for its passenger seats — years of market research and price data from the month-long auction could inform its starting price point. Cornell said the company will reach out to “the most competitive bidders from today to offer them access.” The fourth and final passenger will be announced soon, she said, without indicating whether it’d be a Blue Origin employee, one of the competitive bidders, or someone else.


SpaceX’s Starlink is in talks with ‘several’ airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi

The team behind SpaceX’s growing satellite internet network Starlink is in talks with “several” airlines to beam internet to their airplanes, the project’s vice president said during a conference panel on Wednesday. Expanding Starlink from rural homes and onto airlines is an expected move for Elon Musk’s space company as it races to open the broadband network commercially later this year.

“We’re in talks with several of the airlines,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s VP of Starlink and commercial sales, told a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday. “We have our own aviation product in development… we’ve already done some demonstrations to date, and looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future.”

Since 2018, SpaceX has launched nearly 1,800 Starlink satellites out of the roughly 4,400 it needs to provide global coverage of broadband internet, primarily for rural homes where fiber connections aren’t available. The company is in the midst of a Starlink beta phase that promises up to 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload speeds, with tens of thousands of users so far. Most are paying $99 per month for internet under that beta, using a $499 bundle of a self-aligning Starlink dish and Wi-Fi router.

Last year, SpaceX filed plans to test Starlink on five Gulfstream jets. And in March, SpaceX sought FCC approval to use Starlink with so-called Earth Stations in Motion — industry jargon to refer to basically any vehicle that would receive a signal, including cars, trucks, maritime vessels, and aircraft. Musk clarified on Twitter at the time: “Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big. This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs.” Another FCC filing from last Friday requested approval for testing across five US states of an updated receiver with a square-shaped antenna, a basic design commonly associated with aircraft antennae.

Hofeller said the design for SpaceX’s airline antennas will be very similar to the technology inside its consumer terminals, but “with obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity.” Like those consumer antennas, the aviation hardware will be designed and built by SpaceX, he said. The airborne antennas could link with ground stations to communicate with Starlink satellites.

For Starlink to provide connectivity to airplanes flying over remote parts of the ocean, far from ground stations, will require inter-satellite links — a capability in which satellites talk to each other using laser links without first bouncing signals off ground stations. “The next generation of our constellation, which is in work, will have this inter-satellite connectivity,” Hofeller said.

SpaceX launched its 29th batch of Starlink satellites from Florida on May 26th
Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Competition is fierce between Musk’s Starlink network and the growing industry of low-orbit satellite internet providers. New competitors include so-called mega-constellations from Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, which has yet to launch any of its planned 3,000 satellites, and the UK’s OneWeb, which has launched 182 satellites of roughly 640 planned. All of those satellites will be in low-Earth orbit, a domain below the more distant geostationary orbits of larger internet satellites that currently provide internet services to commercial aircraft.

Established US competitors for in-flight internet are Intelsat and ViaSat, which operate networks of satellites in geostationary orbit. ViaSat recently announced plans to use its next-generation satellite network on Delta’s mainline fleet. The California-based company is planning a 300-satellite low-orbit network of its own as well as a new geostationary trio that will start launching early next year. It is already a diehard competitor to SpaceX. ViaSat has threatened to sue the Federal Communications Commission for not doing an environmental review on a recent Starlink modification.

SpaceX appears confident that it can outlast the more established competition. “All in all, passengers and customers want a great experience that [geostationary] systems simply cannot provide,” Hofeller said on the panel. “So it’s going to be up to the individual airline whether they want to be responsive to that, or if they’re okay with having a system that is not as responsive to their customers’ demand.”

OneWeb, which was pulled out of bankruptcy last year by the UK government and Indian telecom giant Bharti Global, is also targeting in-flight internet services with its constellation and has been far more public with its plans than SpaceX. Asked by the panel moderator when customers can expect to use in-flight internet with any of the competing satellite networks currently expanding in low-Earth orbit, OneWeb’s VP of mobility services Ben Griffin estimated “the middle part of next year… maybe sooner.” Airlines want to see developed hardware and services that work first, he added.

“We have been talking to airlines for quite some time, so there’s no lack of interest,” Griffin said during the same panel. SpaceX’s Hofeller was cagey when the question turned to him — “What Ben said is correct. People want to see the hardware, they wanna see the constellation, and so we’re driving that hard as fast as we can. When the announcement will be? To be determined. Don’t know. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”


The Senate just advanced the beef between SpaceX and Blue Origin

A controversial amendment pushed by Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin passed the Senate Wednesday night, inching closer to becoming law. Crammed inside a mammoth science and technology bill designed primarily to counter competition from China, the amendment would allow NASA to spend up to $10 billion on its embattled Moon lander program. Aside from countering China, it also marks the latest development on Bezos’ warpath to counter competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

For Blue Origin, the $10 billion boost is a key weapon in an enduring rivalry between the country’s two richest people — one way or another, the company hopes parts of the funding could help give it a better chance to compete with SpaceX. It’s just one front in a wide-ranging effort to change the outcome of NASA’s watershed Human Landing System competition: the space agency gave SpaceX, and only SpaceX, a $2.9 billion contract in April to launch its first two missions to the Moon by 2024, upsetting expectations that two companies would be picked.

NASA says it picked SpaceX because it had the best and most affordable proposal, and only SpaceX because it didn’t have enough funds to pick a second company. Last year, Congress gave NASA a quarter of what it requested to fund two separate lunar landers. Blue Origin and Dynetics, the two losing companies, filed protests with the country’s top watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, triggering a pause on SpaceX’s award that could last until August 4th. Among dozens of counterarguments, Blue Origin says NASA unfairly gave SpaceX a chance to negotiate its contract that other bidders didn’t get and unfairly snubbed its roughly $6 billion proposal.

Photo by Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

The stakes are high: If the GAO supports Blue Origin’s arguments, it could reset the whole lunar lander competition and delay NASA’s goal to put humans on the Moon by 2024 — the main deadline in the agency’s Artemis program. If the GAO rejects the company’s protest, things proceed as planned and SpaceX resumes — or begins — its Moon lander work.

But, in its two-pronged fight on Capitol Hill and at the GAO, Blue Origin might not want any ruling on its protest at all.

Lawyers and lobbyists for Bezos’ company argue that NASA, at any time during the GAO’s review of the protest, can simply exercise its ability to make a formal “corrective action” to its HLS decision, enter negotiations with any of the two losing bidders, then pick one as a second contractor that would develop its lunar lander alongside SpaceX — without having to reopen the whole competition. If the corrective action plan settles any of the issues raised in Blue Origin’s protest, then GAO lawyers would dismiss the protest. Such settlements are not uncommon — nearly half of all 2,137 bid protests last year were dismissed because an agency took corrective action.

But it’s extremely unlikely NASA would opt to suddenly reverse its HLS decision through a corrective action. Formally responding to Blue Origin’s protest late last month, the agency fiercely defended its award decision in a lengthy rebuttal filed with the GAO, according to people familiar with the process. Agency staff involved in the NASA effort worry that a reversal could set a bad precedent and are concerned that adding another company might jumble the terms of SpaceX’s current award and potentially spawn another legal nightmare.

Then-nominee Bill Nelson speaks at his Senate confirmation hearing before taking office as NASA administrator.
Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool / Getty Images

However, one reason to correct the decision, some argue, would be if NASA had some assurance that it’d have enough money to pay for a second contractor. That’s where Blue Origin’s herculean lobbying effort comes into play.

Senators Maria Cantwell, a senior Democrat from Blue Origin’s home state of Washington, and Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, proposed the amendment that passed the Senate last night. In its original version, it would have vaguely forced NASA to pick at least one more contractor within 30 days from the bill’s enactment and use $10 billion to fund the whole program — SpaceX’s contract and the hypothetical second company’s contract — through 2026. Cantwell had been irked by NASA’s decision to pick one company and penned the language to promote commercial competition, aides say.

When we landed on the moon, there was great collective pride in that achievement. Our space program should be something that we ALL take part in. We shouldn’t hand over $10B in corporate welfare to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, who are jointly worth $350B, to fund their space hobby.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 26, 2021

A bipartisan chorus of opposition followed, with Sen. Bernie Sanders — one of Washington’s leading critics of Jeff Bezos and other billionaires — calling it a “multi-billion dollar Bezos Bailout” and counter-proposing to delete the Cantwell-Wicker language entirely. “I’ve got a real problem with the authorization of $10 billion going to somebody who, among other things, is the wealthiest person in this country,” Sanders, who voted against the bill last night, said earlier this month. “Cry me a river,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a tweet on Blue Origin’s protest. “Jeff Bezos lost out on a space contract so now Senate inserts a Bezos bailout provision for $10 billion for his space company??”

The “Bezos Bailout” discourse began when SpaceX lobbyists distributed a lobbying memo to lawmakers last month calling the Cantwell-Wicker amendment “a $10 billion sole‐source hand‐out” that “will throw NASA’s Artemis program into years of litigation.”

“THIS AMENDMENT IS NOT ABOUT COMPETITION. THIS IS A HAND‐OUT,” the SpaceX memo, a copy of which was shared with The Verge and first reported by The Washington Post, screams in all-caps. It adds: “Blue Origin has received more than $778 million from NASA, the Air Force, and the Space Force since 2011, and it has not produced a single rocket or spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.”

The amendment doesn’t explicitly command NASA to add another Moon lander contractor to work alongside SpaceX, or even pick Blue Origin for that matter — chunks of the $10 billion could very well go to SpaceX in the future. But the 30-day deadline was seen as a de facto mandate to do so, since creating a new development program in that slim window would be unlikely, and because Blue Origin’s lander proposal came in second place behind SpaceX’s. After weeks of negotiations between NASA and Congress, the amendment’s 30-day deadline was expanded to 60 days, and the funding year stops at 2025 instead of 2026, according to the version of the bill that passed, locking in a concession intended to give NASA more flexibility to use the $10 billion according to its original plan.

That plan includes future competitions, like a development program that could give companies some $15 million to mature their lunar lander designs, or a bigger competition to provide NASA with routine transportation to the Moon. But Blue Origin doesn’t want to wait for those programs to open up. It’s leading a national team of companies it marshaled in 2019 to build a winning Moon lander proposal. That team includes Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, two publicly traded space and defense contractors that could decide to jump ship and work on their own proposals for the follow-up awards, some in the space industry speculate.

Image: Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images

Bezos’ National Team, though, is still together. Draper Laboratory, the third firm on Blue Origin’s team, won a separate $49 million contract late last month to build avionics software partially to support “NASA’s Artemis campaign of missions to not just return to landing on the moon, but to create a sustained presence in lunar vicinity,” according to a contract document. It’s unclear if that software will support SpaceX’s Moon lander, Starship.

“Draper’s work under this award may include NASA’s human landing system, but we don’t know yet,” Pete Paceley, Draper’s vice president of civil space, told The Verge, adding that Draper remains a member of the National Team. “If we do work on HLS under this contract it will be in direct support to NASA.”

As for the Blue Origin-backed Cantwell amendment, which survived the Senate, it’s unclear if it’ll survive the House. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who chairs the House committee and subcommittee that oversees NASA, has come out against NASA’s overall approach to getting to the Moon. A spokeswoman for Rep. Johnson declined to offer comment on the fate of the amendment. In an earlier statement related to NASA’s award to SpaceX, Rep. Johnson said there was still an “obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA’s lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024.”

No one knows when the House could vote on the amendment, and it’s unclear how much it’ll change in the process. Other members of Congress have thrown their support behind NASA’s Moon program. NASA’s new administrator, former Senator Bill Nelson, has been barnstorming Capitol Hill with meetings and public statements since the first week he took office, rallying support for his agency’s Moon program.

“The U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which includes the NASA authorization bill, is an investment in scientific research and technological innovation that will help ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space and sets us on a path to execute many landings on the Moon in this decade,” Nelson said in one such statement from late Tuesday, after the Senate passed the science and technology bill that the Cantwell amendment was crammed into. “I applaud the Senate passage of the bill and look forward to working with the House to see it passed into law.”


How to Track Satellite Fly-Bys with Raspberry Pi

With SpaceX’s Starlink being made available in my area, I became curious about just how many satellites were overhead at any given time. Fortunately, the US Space Command tracks and makes available data for tracking the live positions of objects in orbit. We can download this data, and use a Raspberry Pi and some speakers to announce when a particular satellite is making an overhead pass. You can also get an SMS message sent to your phone in addition to the audio. 

What You’ll Need For This Project 

  • Raspberry Pi 4 or Raspberry Pi 3 with power adapter
  • 8 GB (or larger) microSD card with Raspberry Pi OS. See our list of best microSD cards for Raspberry Pi
  • Desktop speakers with a 3.5mm audio input

How to make a Raspberry Pi Satellite Tracker 

Before you get started, make sure that you have your Raspberry Pi OS set up. If you haven’t done this before, see our article on how to set up a Raspberry Pi for the first time or how to do a headless Raspberry Pi install (without the keyboard and screen).

1. Install git, which will allow us to clone the code from

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install -y git

2. Clone the repository and descend into the directory created.

git clone
cd pi_satellite_announcer

3. Run the installation command. It will take care of installing a virtual environment, any necessary low level dependencies, and the python requirements.

make install

4. Visit and create a new account. This will let us download two-line element (TLE) data tracked by  the US Space Command. The code will update data from this website once per day, and store it locally to minimize stress on their servers.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

5. Once registered, return to your raspberry pi and edit your file – replace the template values with your space-track username and password. 


# Your spacetrack credentials
# export
# export SPACETRACK_PASSWORD=your_spacetrack_password

6. Retrieve your home latitude and longitude values from Google maps by right clicking on the map and selecting the first option.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

7. Copy your latitude and longitude values into, and set your desired radius in kilometers. For example, a radius of 20 kilometers would only report satellites overhead if their position on the ground is less than 20 kilometers away from you – they could be at any altitude. 

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

8. Plug in speakers to the 3.5mm audio port on your raspberry pi, and test that you can hear them with the following command. I’m using a megaphone, but any speakers with a 3.5mm audio input will work.  You may need to increase the volume with the alsamixer command. If you run into trouble, try configuring your audio in the raspi-config menu. 

# Test speakers
espeak -a 200 "this is a test" --stdout | aplay
# Adjust volume

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

 9. Set up a twilio account. We’ll use this to send a text message when a satellite appears overhead. If you don’t wish to use twilio, you can edit and set the ‘use_twilio’ variable to False.

10. Follow the setup instructions for a twilio account. Detailed instructions can be found on Twilio’s site here. You will need to create a phone number, and get your account credentials to perform the send actions.

11. Once you have your credentials and phone number, Add them to the file.


# Twilio credentials
export TWILIO_ACCOUNT_SID=your_account_id
export TWILIO_AUTH_TOKEN=your_account_token

# the number you purchased with twilio
export TWILIO_NUMBER_FROM=+10000000000

# your phone number
export TWILIO_NUMBER_TO=10000000000

12. Run the code with the following command. It will connect to space-track, download the latest TLE data, and immediately start reporting satellites over the latitude, longitude, and radius provided in the file.

make run

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

13. Play around with the code. Right now it only announces satellites that are not considered debris, but this can be adjusted easily. You can also filter down by constellation, or only announce satellites with names that are interesting to you, like the international space station (ZARYA). 


Elon Musk tweets Tesla Model S Plaid delivery to be delayed until June 10th

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday that deliveries of the automaker’s Model S Plaid would be delayed until June 10th because the car needs “one more week of tweak.”

“This car feels like a spaceship,” tweeted Musk, who is also CEO of SpaceX. “Words cannot describe the limbic resonance.”

The company has been teasing the Plaid since 2019, and Musk tweeted on May 20th that Tesla would hold a delivery event June 3rd at its factory in Fremont, California.

Model S Plaid delivery pushed to June 10. Needs one more week of tweak.

This car feels like a spaceship. Words cannot describe the limbic resonance.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 29, 2021

Tesla showed off the Model S Plaid as part of its Battery Day presentation last September. It’s a step up from Tesla’s Ludicrous trim level, and can reach 0-60 mph in less than two seconds, reaching top speeds up to 200 mph, according to Musk. The current specs on Tesla’s website show the Plaid will have range between 390 and 412 miles, with the forthcoming Plaid Plus at a range of more than 520 miles. Prices on Tesla’s website as of Saturday show the Model S Plaid purchase price starting at $119,990, and the Plaid Plus at $149,990. The Plaid Plus is listed as “available in mid-2022.”

The Plaid debuted in September 2019 at the Laguna Seca raceway, where it ran the course in 1 minute and 36 seconds.

former-nasa-astronaut-peggy-whitson-is-returning-to-space-— this-time,-on-a-private-ride

Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is returning to space — this time, on a private ride

Peggy Whitson, one of NASA’s most experienced retired astronauts, is going back to space — this time with a racecar driver and two other passengers in the latest mission planned by Axiom Space. The Houston-based space company announced on Tuesday that Whitson will serve as the mission commander for its second private flight to the International Space Station, with John Shoffner, a GT racer, serving as mission pilot.

The Ax-2 mission with Whitson and Shoffner will be similar to Ax-1, Axiom’s first planned flight for early next year: a crew of four private citizens will fly to the International Space Station for a roughly eight-day stay conducting scientific research. It’s the latest private spaceflight planned so far as companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic race to offer tourists a trip to space — either to the ISS, orbit, or the edge of space.

Axiom serves as a mission manager that procures other companies’ spacecraft to fly people to space, charging passengers somewhere around $55 million per mission if it’s on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and probably more if it’s on Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which has yet to be flight-certified by NASA.

Whitson, 61, has tallied 665 days in space across three missions, the most for any NASA astronaut. She and Shoffner have been training as backups for Ax-1, which is slated to launch three entrepreneurs and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría to the ISS in January 2022. That flight will use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has flown three crews of government astronauts to the ISS since May last year under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The ride for Ax-2 hasn’t been confirmed yet, Axiom says, and the two other Ax-2 crewmates are still being sorted out.

Ax-2’s mission commander Peggy Whitson (left) and pilot John Shoffner (right).
Photo: Axiom Space

When Whitson retired from NASA in 2018, she didn’t think she’d go back to space again. “I didn’t think it was likely. Probably because of that, I was more excited to be assigned as an Axiom backup for Ax-1 and then prime commander for Ax-2 than even for my first spaceflight,” she told The Verge in a phone interview. “It seemed even more unexpected.”

Shoffner, 65, is a trained pilot, investor in the life sciences industry, and a racecar driver who started a GT3 motorsports racing team named J2-Racing with his wife. He and Whitson will do research on the ISS for 10x Genomics, a California-based biotechnology company that manufactures gene sequencing technology for researchers. Shoffner, an investor 10x Genomics, plans to test single-cell sequencing methods while in microgravity, a first for the company.

“I’m going to try and help because I’m a geek. I like this stuff, too,” says Whitson, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University and was once the deputy division chief for the Medical Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center, NASA’s astronaut headquarters in Houston.

Axiom says its private missions will launch every six months, meaning Ax-2 would launch in the middle of 2022 (or roughly half a year after Ax-1 in January 2022). But the date for Ax-2 depends largely on traffic at the space station, which only has two international docking adapters that serve as parking spaces for both cargo and government astronaut missions. Axiom will have to squeeze into the station’s increasingly busy schedule and reserve one of those adapters for the 10-day trip, including eight days docked to the ISS.

Earlier this month, NASA signed an agreement with Axiom to greenlight the company’s Ax-1 mission. The Ax-1 crew is still going through a rigorous training process intended to adjust crew members to the G forces of launching to space.

While its crew members will have to go through the same training, the Ax-2 mission is likely to be more costly than Ax-1. NASA has shifted the prices for hosting private astronaut missions on the space station, primarily a government-run research platform. Axiom’s second mission will be subject to the agency’s latest pricing table: a base of $5.2 million per person, and $4.8 million per mission to pay for planning and integration. The day rate for each passenger is anywhere between $88,000 and $164,000 to accommodate food, cargo, and other services. Axiom says it sorts this out with NASA and includes all of these charges in the customer’s single ticket price.

Axiom, founded in 2016 by a veteran NASA ISS program manager, is building its own private space station modules that it plans to attach to the ISS as soon as 2024. Whitson says her mission will help open doors for more ambitious crewed missions into space. “The future of spaceflight depends on us building an infrastructure that enables us to step further and further away from Earth,” she says. “This step by Axiom, introducing private astronauts to the space station, is going to be just the initial step.”


Elon Musk called lidar a ‘crutch,’ but now Tesla is reportedly testing Luminar’s laser sensors

A Tesla Model Y was photographed in Florida sporting rooftop lidar sensors made by buzzy sensor manufacturer Luminar. The sighting caused a bit of a stir among Tesla watchers, given Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s well-established disdain for the laser sensors commonly used by autonomous vehicle companies to create 3D maps of their environment.

Even more notably, Tesla has reportedly entered a partnership with Luminar to use lidar for “testing and developing,” according to Bloomberg. What exactly this partnership entails we don’t know for sure — neither company is commenting. But it could point to some shortcomings in the technology Tesla is using to power its “Full Self-Driving” driver assist feature.

The vehicle was spotted last week in Palm Beach, Florida, by Grayson Brulte, a consultant for the AV industry who lives in the area. After Brulte tweeted the photos of the Model Y with a rooftop rack of lidar sensors on May 20th, Luminar’s stock surged to its highest level yet. (The Florida-based company recently went public after being acquired by a “blank check” special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.)

Luminar sold the lidar to Tesla as part of an agreement between the two companies, according to Bloomberg. Also, the Model Y was sporting a manufacturer’s license plate that is registered to Tesla in California. The same plate has been spotted on other Tesla vehicles, including a prototype of the Cybertruck.

It’s unlikely that Tesla will reverse its position on lidar based on a single vehicle. As Guidehouse’s Sam Abuelsamid told Bloomberg, it’s more likely that Tesla is using Luminar’s lidar to validate its Full Self-Driving feature. But it’s still a noteworthy development given Musk’s vocal animosity toward the sensor. In a 2018 earnings call, Musk said, “In my view, it’s a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very hard to get out of.” He added, “Perhaps I am wrong, and I will look like a fool. But I am quite certain that I am not.”

Then a year later, he called lidar “a fool’s errand” during a presentation on Tesla’s efforts to build fully autonomous vehicles. “[A]nyone relying on LIDAR is doomed,” he added. “Doomed. Expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices… you’ll see.”

Musk said Tesla is trying to tackle a much bigger problem: passive optical recognition. This is why Tesla is banking on cameras as the key piece of hardware for autonomous vehicles. With their ever-increasing pixel resolution and the low price point, camera sensors are seen as indispensable for advanced driver assistance systems (like Tesla’s Autopilot) and fully autonomous systems. For Tesla, cameras are everything.

Musk also walked back some of those comments in recent months. In a chat on Clubhouse, Musk admitted to “talking smack” about lidar but noted that SpaceX — his other company — has developed its own versions of the laser sensors to assist the Dragon capsule. In a recent earnings call, Musk spoke about moving away from using radar, stating, “We believe that a vision-only system is ultimately all that is needed for full autonomy.”

Luminar, which is based in Florida, went public last year via a reverse merger with a SPAC. That merger valued the company at approximately $2.9 billion in “implied pro forma enterprise value,” with an equity value of $3.4 billion at closing. Luminar is also working with, Airbus, Volvo, Audi, and Toyota Research Institute.


Elon Musk impersonators have stolen more than $2 million in cryptocurrency since October

Consumers lost over $2 million in cryptocurrency to scammers impersonating Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk over the last six months, the Federal Trade Commission reported Monday.

“Promises of guaranteed huge returns or claims that your cryptocurrency will be multiplied are always scams,” the commission said in its Monday report.

For years, scammers have posed as Musk in order to fraud social media users out of cryptocurrency. They use deceptive tactics on sites like Twitter, often using the same avatar images as Musk’s own account and slightly misspelling his username. Pretending to be Musk, the scammers will ask victims to send currency to a specific wallet address in exchange for receiving a larger payment in return. The scams violate Twitter’s policy against deceptive accounts, but moderators have struggled to rein in the activity, and it remains prevalent on the platform.

The $2 million figure was revealed in a larger report on cryptocurrency published by the FTC on Monday. Since last October, consumers reported losing more than $80 million in cryptocurrency scams, increasing “more than ten-fold year-over-year,” the commission said. Consumers lose around $1,900 through these scams on average.

Musk himself was a target in one of the largest Twitter bitcoin scams last summer. In one of the largest breaches in Twitter history, attackers compromised accounts belonging to Musk, President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and even Apple to promote a bitcoin scam. The attackers received nearly $120,000 from the scam that forced Twitter to block all verified users from posting new tweets for several hours.


From Texas to Hawaii: SpaceX plans first orbital Starship test

SpaceX plans to have its first Starship test flight to orbit launch from Texas and splash down off the coast of an island in Hawaii, according to a document the company filed with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday. The orbital flight test would mark the first time SpaceX stacks both elements of its massive Starship system together, the next key development step in its attempt to build a rocket that could one day land on Mars.

As outlined in the document, a super heavy booster stage will launch Starship from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, facilities and separate in midair nearly three minutes into flight. About five minutes later, that booster stage will return back to Earth and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico — or as SpaceX puts it: it will “perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore.”

Meanwhile, Starship (the top half of the entire rocket system) will continue into orbit, nearly completing a full trip around Earth before plunging back through the atmosphere over Hawaii roughly 90 minutes after launching from Texas. Starship will aim to nail a “powered, targeted landing” on the ocean about 62 miles off the northwest coast of Kauai, the state’s northernmost island.

A Starship prototype in March carries out its complex landing-flip maneuver before attempting to land — a technique similar to how it would land off the coast of Hawaii.

The document didn’t name a specific date for Starship’s orbital flight. CEO Elon Musk and SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell have said it could happen by the end of 2021, but an email that accompanied Thursday’s filing indicated it could happen any time in the next year, before March 1st, 2022. That email also says the maximum altitude for Starship is 72 miles — an extremely low orbital altitude sitting just north of the boundary between space and Earth’s atmosphere.

SpaceX’s Starship system is the centerpiece of Musk’s goal to enable routine interplanetary travel. The system, designed to send humans and up to 100 tons of cargo to the Moon and Mars, recently won a $2.9 billion contract to serve as NASA’s first ride to the Moon carrying astronauts since 1972. SpaceX has launched five high-altitude Starship prototypes from its south Texas rocket facilities since December, nailing a successful landing on its fifth test flight earlier this month. A few more of those suborbital “hop” tests are planned in the next month or so.

Whenever it happens, the orbital test will demonstrate Starship maneuvers that can’t be simulated using computers, SpaceX says in the document. “SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult to accurately predict or replicate computationally.” The flight data gleaned from Starship’s test “will anchor any changes in vehicle design… and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations,” SpaceX said.

Musk has envisioned using Starship for rapid orbit-based transportation between any two cities on Earth, an ambitious (or pretty wild) idea called point-to-point travel. A Starship trip (Startrip?) between New York and London, for example, would take an hour. The 90-minute trip from Texas to Hawaii somewhat mirrors the idea, though it’s just a test, and it’s been a while since SpaceX or Musk have discussed any updates on point-to-point travel plans.

With its new Moon lander contract from NASA — which has stirred quite a bit of FOMO in the space industry, likely to NASA’s ire — SpaceX is racing to test Starship for deep-space missions with a deadline to put humans on the lunar surface by 2024.


Proposed bill aims to toss a new wrench in NASA’s Moon lander plan

A senior lawmaker proposed a controversial piece of legislation on Wednesday that directs NASA to pick a second company to build the agency’s next Moon landers — in addition to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which was awarded a $2.9 billion NASA contract to build a lander earlier this year. The bill hasn’t passed the full Senate yet, but it marks a new front in an ongoing effort to overturn or rejig NASA’s decision. It also sets up the first political challenge for NASA’s new administrator, former Sen. Bill Nelson.

NASA’s choice of SpaceX last month to build the agency’s first lunar lander since 1972 spawned a wave of opposition from some lawmakers and the two losing companies in the running: Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin and Dynetics. Those companies lodged formal protests against NASA’s decision, triggering a procedural pause on SpaceX’s new contract. Among other things, the protests maintain that NASA should have picked two firms instead of one.

Amid a lobbying effort from Blue Origin, those calls have found their way into a NASA authorization bill, proposed as an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee overseeing NASA. Cantwell represents Blue Origin’s home state of Washington. Under Cantwell’s language, NASA would be required to reopen the competition within 30 days and allow it to use $10 billion of its budget to pick a second lunar lander provider.

Before choosing SpaceX, NASA had been expected to pick two companies, a strategy that guaranteed a backup in case one lander fell behind. But the agency went only with SpaceX — its bid was half of Blue Origin’s — after funding shortfalls from Congress. “It was in NASA’s best interest, along with the budget that was there, for us to award to one,” NASA’s human spaceflight chief, Kathy Lueders, who led the decision to pick SpaceX, said last month.

Simply adding another company to build NASA’s Moon lander, as proposed in Cantwell’s amendment, could run afoul of the existing agreements with SpaceX, agency officials say. “It’s not as simple as picking the next in line,” says one person familiar with the process, speaking anonymously to chat frankly about legal matters. Going through the long and protracted process of picking another company would also endanger NASA’s rush to get to the Moon by 2024, agency staff say. (Blue Origin argues the opposite: that not picking a second company risks the 2024 goal.)

NASA declined to comment on the bill, citing the ongoing litigation from Blue Origin and Dynetics’ protests.

Blue Origin argues NASA can simply add another company, and it’s well within the agency’s ability to do so legally. That’s because, company employees say, SpaceX’s award falls under a kind of research and development category of government contracting that would permit another player to join, unlike more legally rigid contract programs for routine transportation services.

It’s unclear what specific legal jargon could (or could not) permit NASA to pick another company to develop a lunar lander alongside SpaceX. But Cantwell’s proposed amendment aims to assert a straightforward solution.

SpaceX’s $2.9 billion award is for two flights to the Moon using Starship, the company’s fully reusable rocket system that’s still under development in Texas. The first mission would require Starship to make an uncrewed lunar landing, followed by another landing carrying astronauts.


Elon Musk’s SpaceX is literally launching a Dogecoin-funded satellite to the Moon

SpaceX is now accepting Dogecoin, and it’ll be paid exclusively in the cryptocurrency to launch an upcoming satellite named DOGE-1 to — yes — the Moon.

The DOGE-1 is a cubesat meant to acquire “lunar-spatial intelligence” using onboard cameras and sensors. It’s being sent and paid for by a company named Geometric Energy Corporation, and it’ll be flown up on a Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022.

Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started out as a goofy meme and is now a somewhat more valuable goofy meme, has been on the rise lately, with enough trading around spikes in the currency to cause crashes of the trading app Robinhood. Elon Musk is the coin’s highest profile supporter, tweeting Dogecoin memes, referring to himself as the “Dogefather,” and hyping it up (sort of) on Saturday Night Live. Investors like to talk about sending Dogecoin’s value “to the Moon,” thus, we’re getting this silly stunt about sending a satellite named DOGE-1 paid to Musk’s company in Dogecoin to the Moon.

SpaceX is going to put a literal Dogecoin on the literal moon

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 1, 2021

Given all that, SpaceX includes in the announcement the exact quote one might assume Musk mandated the company include: “We’re excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!” said SpaceX vice president of commercial sales Tom Ochinero.

It’s a spot of good news for Dogecoin, which has had a tough week. After spiking in price, falling around a Robinhood crash, and spiking again in anticipation of Musk’s SNL appearance, the cryptocurrency crashed overnight following a segment in which Musk joked about Dogecoin being a “hustle.”

The announcement seems to be designed to fight back against that narrative. Ochinero says the partnership sets “the foundation for interplanetary commerce.” And Geometric Energy Corporation’s CEO says the transaction “solidified DOGE as a unit of account for lunar business in the space sector.” The press release goes on to say that Dogecoin is “sophisticated enough to finance a commercial Moon mission in full” and that it’ll be used for all lunar business between the two companies. (Musk’s other company, Tesla, recently started accepting car purchases in Bitcoin.)

The Verge has reached out to SpaceX and Geometric Energy Corporation for more information on the planned launch.

So assuming all goes according to plan, Dogecoin will help send DOGE-1 to the Moon next year. Will that also send Dogecoin to the Moon? It probably depends on how much the parties involved continue to hype it. As Musk’s SNL character admits, “Yeah, it’s a hustle.”


Watch Elon Musk play Wario, parody SpaceX, and hype dogecoin on Saturday Night Live

As you’ve surely heard, last night’s guest host on Saturday Night Live was not a charismatic movie actor promoting a new project but instead an endlessly hyped CEO named Elon Musk. Over the course of an hour and a half, SNL had Musk dress up as a misunderstood Wario, mock some of his more questionable ideas during a cowboy sketch, and play a version of himself set some years into a future where SpaceX has made it to Mars. Musk’s partner, Grimes, also made a cameo appearance as Princess Peach. I’ll let you guess which sketch.

While the show was streamed internationally on YouTube last night, those of us in the United States who don’t pay for cable were stuck waiting for clips to appear the following morning. As of press time, it is now the following morning. And as expected, the clips have appeared.

Here’s a roundup of Musk’s appearances ranked from best to “I haven’t watched them yet.”


Elon Musk’s SNL monologue poked fun at his public persona

Elon Musk opened his hosting gig on Saturday Night Live by acknowledging his public comments get him in trouble. “Sometimes after I say something I have to say ‘I mean that,’” he said. He pointed to his “69 days after 4/20 again haha” tweet, but didn’t mention the 2018 tweet that got him in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Musk said he was the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL — something he hasn’t said publicly before. It did not appear he was joking, but it was a bit difficult to be sure how sincere Musk was being, given his history as both an internet troll and someone who doesn’t always know how to deliver a joke.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO joked that people sometimes don’t know what to expect from him. “I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship,” Musk said. “Did you think I was going to be a chill, normal dude?”

Musk said his famous appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast where he smoked weed wasn’t his usual habit. And he appeared to relish the live audience: “I could say something truly shocking like ‘I drive a Prius.’”

He also said the name of his youngest child, spelled X Æ A-12 is “pronounced ‘cat running across keyboard.’”

Musk’s mother Faye also made an appearance during the monologue. “I’m excited for my Mother’s Day gift, I just hope it’s not Dogecoin,” she said.

To which Elon replied “it is.”

every-other-ev-brand-showed-up-to elon-musk’s-snl

Every other EV brand showed up to Elon Musk’s SNL

At least five of Tesla’s competitors bought ad time during Saturday Night Live hosted by Elon Musk, using the billionaire’s appearance to sell their own. non-Tesla EVs.

Commercials for the Audi E-tron, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen ID 4, and Lucid Air all aired within the first 30 minutes of SNL. Lucid Motors, a company founded by Peter Rawlinson, the former head engineer of the Tesla Model S who frequently clashes with Musk, teased its commercial earlier in the week. It was its debut commercial for the Lucid Air, a claimed 500-mile EV due later this year.

In his opening monologue, Musk noted he’s the guy who made electric vehicles popular. The commercials were intended to remind the audience that Tesla isn’t the only name in the game anymore.

It wasn’t just EV companies either. According to Adweek, Sierra Space, a rival of Musk’s SpaceX, purchased several spots that will run on YouTube clips of Musk’s appearance on SNL. The company is also targeting non-SNL Musk clips on the platform.

We’ll update this post if more related commercials air.